Today’s Wheel of Adventures has stopped at a wild spot in 2014. This is part one of a four part series about my African safari. . .  so here we go!

Many folks have a dream to one day visit Africa on a safari. In June 2014 that dream came true for me – a real African safari provided by a highly experienced operator, Wilderness Safaris. Founded in 1983, Wilderness Safaris now operates 50 luxury camps covering eight million acres in 9 African countries. All their safaris are custom planned to create experiences from budget thru ultra-luxury, in response to travel agent requests world wide. Working with a long time agent friend, I chose a ten-person group adventure to the Okavango Delta region of Botswana in the southern part of Africa.

Botswana's Okavango Delta is located in the south of Africa
Botswana’s Okavango Delta is located in the south of Africa
Travel between outside cities and the many camps is by Cessna Caravan
Travel between outside cities and the many camps is by Cessna Caravan
Being a former pilot for 50 years, this was naturally my favorite seat
Being a former pilot for 50 years, this was naturally my favorite seat
Much of the Okavango Delta is lush wetlands in addition to dry savannah
Much of the Okavango Delta is lush wetlands in addition to dry savannah
Camps have hard dirt runways placed several miles distant from camps
Camps have hard dirt runways placed several miles distant from camps
This is the Banoka regional airport main terminal building - very simple
This is the Banoka regional airport main terminal building – very simple
A7
The Land Rover Defender 130 is a favorite vehicle for game drives

Johannesburg South Africa was the starting place with a two-hour airline flight to the town of Maun near the Delta where a small Cessna Caravan turboprop flew us onwards with a 30 minute flight to the first of three camps, Banoka, to start a week’s stay in three different types of terrain. This part of Africa varies from dry desert, hard salt pan, savannah forest, to lush swamp. Thus a fabulous chance to view a large variety of real African wildlife and flora. Banoka, as with the other two camps, is a fully closed loop environment of solar powered water and electricity with internet connection and ecologically neutral disposal of all human activity byproducts. The wildlife is fully protected from human intrusion as much as possible. In fact, as it turned out, we humans were mostly ignored by the local creatures!

Wilderness Safari camps are beautifully situated in scenic locations
Wilderness Safari camps are beautifully situated in scenic locations
Guests are provided with two-bed fully equipped private luxury tents
Guests are provided with two-bed fully equipped private luxury tents
Center camp is open-air with very comfortable furnishings
Center camp is open-air with very comfortable furnishings

 

Camp Banoka is laid out with a luxurious open-air central gathering lodge, individual raised-floor private tents scattered about, and a logistics center for employees and services. The daily activities generally follow a consistent schedule. Wake up call at 5:30 am, then at 6:00 am a ranger escorts you safely to the lodge for a light breakfast, (we are in a jungle filled with dangerous animals after all). One is not allowed to wander in the dark. At 6:30 am we board our Land Rover Defender 130 game drive vehicles with tiered seating. Since it’s fall in the southern hemisphere in June, the wake up temperature can be as low as 48° outside – and also 48° inside the tent! Land Rover’s have no windshield, so it’s freeze-face time. You wear your best Alaskan winter garb. Thankfully the seats are pre-heated with hot water bottles, which can keep hands warm for two hours under some flannel-lined rain ponchos.

The African waterbuck is a large water-loving antelope with spiraled horns
The African waterbuck is a large water-loving antelope with spiraled horns
Waterbucks have very unique rear markings making then easy to identify
Waterbucks have very unique rear markings making then easy to identify
Impala, a medium antelope, runs very fast, jumping almost 10' in one leap
Impala, a medium antelope, runs very fast, jumping almost 10′ in one leap
A male Impala herds his three females as they browse for food
A male Impala herds his three females as they browse for food
The Chevrolet Impala was named after the impala seen in Disney movie
The Chevrolet Impala was named after the impala seen in Disney movie
A family of female kudu, another species of medium sized antelope
A family of female kudu, another species of medium sized antelope
Female kudus have incredibly colorful large ears for predator detection
Female kudus have incredibly colorful large ears for predator detection
Male kudus are spectacular with their twisted horns and large neck manes
Male kudus are spectacular with their twisted horns and large neck manes

We have no idea what we will see. Creatures may be everywhere or nowhere, (disappointment happens). Luckily our first full day is so wildlife-filled it amazes even our rangers. Impala and Kudu we see right away, then waterbuck and zebra – wow, so this is a real Safari, not a Disney Animal Kingdom. We are way excited by 8:30 am when we make a morning tea and biscuit stop (in a safe clearing naturally). The Land Rover front protective grating converts into a splendid bar top loaded with juices, nibbles, hot coffee and tea. Oh so veddy British. With the sun now rising – we left before dawn – off come the coats and hoodies as we resume our morning game drive, which concludes back at camp around 10:30 am.

A close up view showing the details of the male kudu twisted horns
A close up view showing the details of the male kudu twisted horns
The female kudu is such a gorgeous creature with her fantastic ears
The female kudu is such a gorgeous creature with her fantastic ears
Zebras travel in herds for protection - they a bit timid around humans
Zebras travel in herds for protection – they’re a bit timid around humans
Every zebra has a completely unique stripe pattern for easy identification
Every zebra has a completely unique stripe pattern for easy identification
The African grey footed baboon is found everywhere in Botswana
The African grey footed baboon is found everywhere in Botswana
These baboons prove that the the Circle of Life must always be continued
These baboons prove that the the Circle of Life must always be continued
Colorful African wild dogs are highly social with great organizational skills
Colorful African wild dogs are highly social with great organizational skills
Each wild dog is a spectacular riot of wild colorizations
Each wild dog is a spectacular riot of wild colorizations
Wild dogs both approach vehicles and completely ignore human presence
Wild dogs both approach vehicles and completely ignore human presence
African elephants are so magnificent both in size and imposing activity
African elephants are so magnificent both in size and imposing activity
Female elephants are very firm in how close they will allow humans to be
Female elephants are very firm in how close they will allow humans to be
The frisky little warthogs will let one know if they think you get too close
The frisky little warthogs will let one know if they think you get too close
Baboons seem to be very active and always on the move with big families
Baboons seem to be very active and always on the move with big families
This cape buffalo was no match for a pride of female lions who needed food
This cape buffalo was no match for a pride of female lions who needed food
A rare sight - an elusive leopard with an antelope safely hidden in a tree
A rare sight – an elusive leopard with an antelope safely hidden in a tree
A young male lion on a morning walk - his mother and sister are nearby
A young male lion on a morning walk – his mother and sister are nearby
After his morning walk, the young male lion gives me gentle stare
After his morning walk, the young male lion gives me gentle stare
The male lion's sister chills out nearby in the cool morning air
The male lion’s sister chills out nearby in the cool morning air

Next, we gather in the central lodge for a lavish and tasty hot breakfast featuring a variety of both local and familiar delicacies. Since the evening game drive will not start until 4:30 pm after both a late lunch and afternoon tea time, we have a fine peaceful mid-day do-nothing period to enjoy. The day does warm up to maybe 80° or so, the jungle or forest becoming very peaceful and serene. I think the wildlife also enjoys this time of day, since not much goes on in their world between their breakfast and dinner. Up at dawn for a predator chase, then a nightly hunt for a warm meal. For the herbivores, it’s try to avoid the carnivores. It’s pretty simple; big cats get first dibs, then come the hyenas, finally vultures and insects. We saw a freshly killed cape buffalo in camp totally devoured over a three day period to just a bare skull.

Soon the sun begins to warm her fur, so she'll soon seek some shade
Soon the sun begins to warm her fur, so she’ll soon seek some shade
Sister, son, and mom just ignore the intruding Land Rover humans
Sister, son, and mom just ignore the intruding Land Rover humans

Going out at dusk is very special – all the animals are active, the colors soften, sunsets are not to be missed. Just after sunset, out come the Land Rover bars once again – it’s cocktail time. By golly, so proper to swill a gin and tonic with hors d’ oeuvres as darkness and the night chill sets in. It does get spooky – sounds in the night – was that a lion’s roar, a hippo snort, anguished cry of an impala selected for a lion’s dinner? At night the rangers use red spot lights so as to not bother the wildlife eyes. And what sights and sounds; red-glowing-eye hyenas surrounding our vehicle while ripping a carcass to shreds, crunching bones, all with that shrieking laughter. Oh gosh, let’s get back to camp safety right away. Hey, it’s a safari, you asked for it.

Mom finds that her son provides a comfortable pillow for a snooze
Mom finds that her son provides a comfortable pillow for a snooze
Mother must be very proud of her beautiful son - a lion king someday
Mother must be very proud of her beautiful son
Certainly a portrait of a proud mom with her future lion king
Portrait of a future lion king

Next up: More stories and photos of the rangers and staff at Camp Banoka, as well as a look at more safari wildlife in part two. After that, we’ll experience swamp and wetlands by boat and canoe, visit elephants, watch hippos, and more at Camp Xigera. Lastly we’ll stay at Duma Tau – leopards, giraffes, and lots of elephants.

Would you enjoy a real African safari?

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Bob Gurr is a true Disney legend who was hired on to design the Autopia for Disneyland. Over nearly four decades, Bob would become famous for developing the Monorails, Submarines, Flying Saucers, antique cars and double-decker buses of Main Street, Ford Motor Company's Magic Skyway (at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair), Omnimover ride system, Matterhorn and lots more. It has been said that if it moves, Bob probably played a part. Upon leaving Imagineering in 1981, Bob worked on a number of "leisure-time spectaculars" and "fantastical beasts" for parks and developments all over the world. Most notably, he created King Kong and Conan's Serpent for Universal Studios Hollywood, A UFO for the closing ceremonies of the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics, and the memorable T-Rex figure featured in Steven Spielberg's motion picture "Jurassic Park." You can find Bob's column, Design: Those Were The Times, right here on MiceChat. Though don't pin Bob down to a schedule, he's busy being "retired."
  • tooncity

    Rafiki what are you doing!!!!!!!!!! Nooooooooooooooooooo!

  • What an amazing trip Bob! Not sure I’m rugged enough to do it myself, but so glad to see your photos here and live vicariously through you.

    Something about seeing a pride of lions just steps away from an unprotected Land Rover sends chills up my spine. Amazing opportunity, but terrifying.

  • wmatzner

    Amazing photos, Bob. With the Lion closeups, how much is telephoto lens versus your bravery as being close to them?

    • Bob Gurr

      No bravery required – wildlife generally ignores humans in vehicles, which approach typically to about 30′ from lions, 100′ from elephants. Botswana is very close up, unlike Serengeti with vast herds a mile away.

  • Amy VandenBoogert

    Such beautiful photos, Bob! What kind/size lens did you use?

    Can’t wait to see more!

    • Bob Gurr

      We were so very close to most animals that I could not use a 100-400mm lens. The best lens for this situation was a Sigma 18-250 f3.5 on a Canon 7D. As it turned out, only this one lens did 100% of the photos – wide area shots and lion face portraits, all with one lens.

  • disneylandfan8

    Just catching up to your trip report. Wow. What an amazing journey – trip of a lifetime

    All your photos are stunningly crisp and so close-up. The beauty of these animals definitely will stop you in your tracks.

    Pass me a cocktail. Can’t wait to see more!

  • 4Apples4Disney

    Fantastic!! What great pictures..thank you Bob!